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Teacher-of-tomorrow

Put away the textbooks and chalk, a new type of teacher is coming.

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Old School

Picture yourself with a group of friends playing a board game, and the topic is “Things that a teacher would have.” If you start rattling off the obvious clichés, you might come up with items such as a textbook, a ruler, a chalkboard, and maybe even an apple or a world map.

But given the rise of online education, an entirely new set of tools is necessary. Not only does a modern teacher need a laptop, a web cam, and a microphone, there are dozens of new skills necessary in today’s classrooms.

According to 2011 data from Babson Survey Research Group, one third of all students in higher education are taking an online course, with the number increasing for the past 9 years. Given the rising cost of universities, the quality of new online learning sites, and widespread access to high-speed internet, the industry is ripe for disruption.

As someone that is currently teaching two online classes, the skills needed to produce a quality course are markedly different than those that my college professors needed to have.

An online instructor for a site such as Mediabistro.com moves from their syllabus to building an online presentation, incorporating research, images, and often video. They then use a screen capture program such as Camtasia, to live narrate their course, with the option to include themselves on video within the page and applying tools to zoom in and out of the content. The lecture series is then streamed out to students on a weekly basis so that they can learn at their own pace.

However, the most valuable aspect might be the weekly chats with instructors. Acting as part teacher, part game show host, and part talk show producer, the instructor must entertain and inform while on camera (make sure to get the lighting and sound just right), juggling questions from chat, responding to comments, cutting and pasting links, sharing their screen for live demos, and recording the session for later use for those that could not attend.

WSJ Video: The new way to think about teaching

In a recent online video segment, The Wall Street Journal’s Katie Rosman talked about the old way of thinking on university campuses: Publish or perish, focus on research, and make your way toward tenure.

As with any disruptive industry, professors will need to adapt. Those who do however, might find themselves with perks they hadn’t considered.

New perks for today’s teachers

Like many online personalities before them that have gained popularity from the web, some professors have found themselves building a personal brand. With the ability to reach anyone, anywhere, the best teachers can build a following with their unique teaching style and ability. Rather than research documents in trade journals as a point of pride, the number of video views and positive comments from students around the world could be, as Rosman states, “a measurable way to show what good teaching can mean.”

Not only that, but teachers that are able to monetize their online courses can supplement their income. Over at Udemy.com, in 2012 one quarter of its approved instructors closed out the year with at least $10,000 in income. As university professor gain recognition online, they may be able to leverage opportunities to write for publications, speak at seminars, host panels, write books, and consult with businesses.

This is not necessarily a bad thing for higher education. As a worldwide trend, lesser-known institutions can expand their reach and visibility to new students and global partners.

The big winners: Students

Students-of-tomorrow

The big winner in all this might just be the students. One of my online students, a food blogger, asked me what the best way to reach out to her audience would be… an e-cookbook? online video? blog posts?

My answer was to build an online course, where she could use the strength of the medium based on each task:
- For data driven information like recipes, she could have downloadable documents
- For quickly identifiable foods, she could use photos
- For a narrative history of the meal she was creating, she could do longer-form content
- And for visual, complicated tasks like prep and cooking, she could use video.

What will happen to institutes of higher learning? Jeff Howe interviewed Clayton Christensen (author of The Innovator’s Dilemma) in WIRED Magazine recently, and I agree with his response: “Some will survive. Most will evolve hybrid models, in which universities license some courses from an online provider like Coursera but then provide more-specialized courses in person.”

So forget your textbook and grab your Macbook. The teacher of the future is coming.

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